Review: Assassin’s Creed III
After four games we have finally reached the climax of Desmond's story but does the fifth and final game in his arc provide a fitting end and elevate the series to new heights or does it fall flat in a heap next a cart of hay?
- Worth The Time?Only some of the time.
- Things LovedThe gorgeous visuals and fantastic score make the game a sensory experience to behold. Connor's story is rather interesting and Desmond provides some great sequences of gameplay. There are some truly standout missions, especially those involving major historical events. The recreations of Boston, New York and the surrounding frontier are spectacularly realised. Naval gameplay is fantastic and so is the energetic multiplayer.
- Things HatedThe excruciatingly long intro sequences are as painful as the myriad bugs which plague the game. Missions and poorly structured and scripted at times. Despite the scale of the game, missions are frustratingly linear and often claustrophobic. There is a lack of motivation/incentive to play side activities nor is there much need to make use of many weapons. Much of the story feels sundry and for the most part it is completely unrelated to Desmond's. The ending feels rushed, incoherent and senseless.
- RecommendationSeries fans will likely adore this but there are better titles out there for the neutrals even if there still is no experience quite like Assassin's Creed. It's worth a look for those brief shining moments when the game displays brilliance.
- Name: Assassin's Creed III
- Genre: Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: 2-8
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R525 (PS3, Xbox360), R345 (PC)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Assassin’s Creed III is a game that frustrated, enthralled, engaged and disappointed me in somewhat unequal measures. It is this erratic and unbalanced experience that makes it such an odd and ill-fitting conclusion to what is surely only the franchise’s first major story arc.
The Assassin’s Creed series has a special place in my heart, or rather did, as I love the way Ubisoft has managed to breathtakingly re-imagine ages past with a real feel to the world around you as well as the way they intertwine their own crafted narratives with history but more importantly, the overall experience of Assassin’s Creed is one which is absolutely unique and distinct. This is why I absolutely adore the first two games and still have a few fond memories of Brotherhood and Revelations although these are without a doubt where the series went wrong. Dragging out Ezio’s story reeked of milking the series and it was going to take something big to restore the series’ name with Assassin’s Creed III.
Developed in secret for three years while a separate team churned out Revelations and Brotherhood, this game is Ubisoft’s biggest ever but contrary to every porno you’ve ever watched, size isn’t everything and it shows no clearer than with Assassin’s Creed III.
The first thing you’ll perhaps notice is that the game starts off very slowly and shockingly, it takes around 6 hours for you to actually get past ‘intro/tutorial’ stages and really break-out into the world as an assassin. Even if you can eke 20 or 25 hours out of this game, that is a painfully long time to be learning the ropes and not really going anywhere with the story for a game whose campaign can be wrapped up in all of 12 hours.
The strangest thing is that while the happenings of the initial sequences are rather interesting and pay off with a lovely little twist, it is all largely irrelevant to what is happening in the real world with Desmond and this is a trait that carries all the way through our new ancestor, Connor’s, narrative. It is disheartening because Connor’s story is actually rather interesting but not fitting for the finale of what is supposed to be Desmond’s story arc.
It’s been great using Desmond as a proxy for the likes of Altair and Ezio but it was always clear that the series would eventually put a greater emphasis on Desmond so as to conclude his story. I am no fan of the character but some of the best parts of AC 3 involve our unlikeable protagonist and I can’t help but feel that he’s been short-changed in favour of Connor’s revolutionary tale. Frankly, Desmond’s story is wrapped up merely as a courtesy and matter of formality by the looks of it. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, let’s work our way up from the bottom.
So you play the bulk of the game as Connor, a Native American assassin who has donned the pointy hood in the hopes of fighting injustice and fighting for freedom, especially that of his people. In fact, his dogged and narrow-minded goal of keeping his people safe and seeking ‘freedom for all’ comes across as hopelessly naive and one-dimensional. He is easily worse than the cocky and self-obsessed bastard that is Altair at the start of the first game, he may even be less likeable than the ‘bland as a beige rock’ Desmond Miles. Connor doesn’t really seem to have been coded with emotions because when he does, it’s a very binary choice of either disgust or anger. Interestingly, Connor is placed right at the heart of the American Revolution and you meet such notables as Benjamin Franklin, General Lafayette, George Washington and Charles Lee. You even take part in historic naval and land battles and yet a lot of this significance and the weight of Connor’s actions are lost on him because he is so unaware of everything outside his little path of freedom and security.
There’s actually a great section between Connor and another character which could’ve really made you question the Assassin’s motives versus those of the Templars and it even diverges into a debate of peace versus freedom but it never transcends to something truly intellectually engaging. This is because Connor is as dismissive and inept at open-minded thinking as PW Botha’s five year old son.
Back in the present, Desmond and the Tutus have discovered the caverns where the Precursors have stored what may well be Earth’s saving grace in the face of apocalypse but they require a key to unlock the door to this device and this is where Connor comes in. The key was lost with him and so Desmond plays through his life to discover the location of said key.
The trouble is that Connor isn’t really looking for the key and thus most of his story is absolutely irrelevant to what’s happening in 2012 with Desmond. You may argue that this happens all the time with AC games but in this case Connor’s goals and his mission have just about nothing to do with what Desmond is trying to achieve with him other than the fact that Connor happens to be stabbing a few prominent Templars in the face.
There’s nothing more than a tenuous connection between the two sides of the game and in all honesty, while it is pretty awesome to re-enact the Boston Tea Party and famous battles, the stuff happening in the real world should be more interesting and it generally is even if the characters act as if they’re just waiting for some bad weather to pass over. Desmond finally develops just enough of a character to not be hated and has some of the most memorable sequences in the game even if his screen-time is severely lacking and you feel like they rushed through Desmond’s stuff so as to jump back into colonial America where Ubisoft can exhibit their massive history erection.
That may sound harsh and yes, Ubisoft does seem to think an awful lot of themselves but my God, the cities of New York and Boston and the frontier between is something spectacular to behold. The environments are sprawling and absolutely gorgeous. The detail is great but you can see this engine is struggling against the technology’s constraints, either that or Ubisoft coded this game the way the Soviets constructed their cars which is to say shoddily. For all its beautiful vistas and great character models and…holy shit, that ocean! Wait, where was I? Oh right, so despite all this visual brilliance, the game is rife with bugs and glitches even after you install the day one patch. Now I played the game without the update because it really should be quite playable without it but it is an infuriatingly trying time playing with the game stuttering frequently, having to load every few minutes and with a draw distance so bad that some NPCs will literally pop-up out of nowhere 5m in front of you.
Let’s keep this positivity going by briefly mentioning the audio. The voice-acting is solid and is it just me or does the Native American sound a little like Hindi or at least in the same way that Portuguese sounds like Spanish if you know what I mean. Oh and now there’s a full seasonal weather system which really changes the dynamic of the world, especially the frontier where snow can bog you down significantly.
The frontier at any time of year is an expansive environment filled with activity from hunting – which grows tiresome if you’re not a fan of grinding – to stemming Templar influence by destroying forts to various frontiersmen missions, most of which play off American myths and legends such as that of the Sasquatch. There’s also the usual spread of collectibles and one motivation for hunting is the challenges doled out by the hunting club. There’s no shortage of activity but you are often not driven to do a lot of these side activities and it was only after I made the concerted effort to give a few of these side quests a chance that I discovered that there was some fun to be had. Some are better than others but the frontiersmen content is generally good. You can also choose to hunt for the lost treasure of Captain Kidd.
Within the cities there’s also plenty of activity from finding entrances to the fully mapped out and explorable underground tunnels, to chasing down various collectibles and most importantly ridding areas of Templar control by performing liberation missions, which also allow you to recruit assassins and rebuild the now defunct Brotherhood.
You might not be rebuilding cities any more but Connor has a homestead which you might call his base of operations and from here you set up trading by purchasing materials and either selling them for profit, or using them to craft products and consumables. You can even use these consumables for yourself but it is far less effort and only slightly pricier to just buy your arrows, or whatever from a trader. You can even sit down for a game of bocce with Washington. Yes, this game has gambling.
I’d like to dedicate a paragraph to the absolutely fantastic naval gameplay which lets you command a ship and get into the thick of battle on the coastal seas. The ocean looks amazing, the experience is dynamic and challenging with players having to consider the trade-off of speed/manoeuvrability as well as factoring in wind direction all while navigating tight passes and raining fire upon enemies. You can also upgrade your ship and its munitions for a more intimidating sea-presence. It is actually quite fun and rewarding to play.
Do you know what else I loved? The sequences where we take control of Desmond and get to run around with him in the real world. Barring a ludicrously stupid and tactless sequence with him, it is a joy to be a modern-day assassin and the sequences are so interesting. It makes you wonder why Ubisoft didn’t give us more of this throughout the game since it actually feels like they’re teasing us with what it could have been like only to yank it away from us. In hindsight though, I’m glad they didn’t overuse these sequences of modern gameplay or else the spectacle of them would have worn thin and they would not be as special or quite so memorable.
As for Connor’s various missions, they are the typical sort of stuff we’ve come to expect in addition to a few new things such as commanding soldiers in battle. The missions are hit and miss with some being great and really cool while others are somewhat more mundane. The real problem is the scripting and structure of missions. Missions are built so linearly that for all the game’s expanse and size, and scale, there is but one way to really do any given mission and the game is sorely lacking that sort of variety based on player preferences. The scripting is also lamentable with one notable experience being a crucial mission towards the end of the game having me chase a Templar and even though I kept catching up with and even overrunning him. I could do nothing because it was scripted that we had to reach a certain point before the cinematic would be triggered. But then why make it such that I can run circles around him? It reeks of poor design and ill-planning.
Of the core gameplay mechanics, the free-running is so much faster and more fluid, especially with the ability to climb tress and other natural features. You have a greater amount of control over Connor which allows for less of that mis-jumping and this is in part due to a simplified control system where holding one button does all the contextual work for you. In this case, simplification is indeed better.
Perhaps not as much so with the combat. It has been simplified even further such that there is only a marginal difference between the effects of melee weapons so it really comes down to which one looks nicer covered in brain juice. Combat is very easy and never gets any more challenging as the game progresses. If anything, it gets easier with all the upgrades you can purchase. There are some cool new tools such as rope darts and trip mines. While having to wait for Connor to manually reloading a gun the way you had to in those days is a novel idea, it gets tiresome but does prevent you from overusing it and turning this into Assassin’s of War: Creed Ops 3. There is little incentive to stray from your crossbow and tomahawk though other than for pure experimentation because you can dispatch any and every enemy quite easily with your trusty hatchet in hand.
A moment of silence for the day when a game takes you into a separate radial menu to select different weapons rather than just bringing it up in front of you. If Need for Speed: Most Wanted is the last word in simple and easily accessible menus/features, Assassin’s Creed III is bordering on intentionally induced annoyance. It’s difficult to make the menus this convoluted and frustrating accidentally. There is a token element of stealth and truth be told some of the sections aren’t bad but for the most part you can see that the game is clearly designed for attack-minded playing where the goal is to stab everything as much as possible before they drop dead and Connor is an expert at this with a flourishing style that is mesmerising to watch at times. But it also makes you just want the brief moments of forced stealth to be over and done with because you feel very constrained rather than challenged.
The multiplayer is great as always and while some dismiss it as a token mode, I love its frenetic fast-paced action and the fun that its takes on the classic king of the hill, deathmatch and capture the flag modes offer. There’s a new mode called Wolfpack which allows teams of up to four to work together as a unit in order to bring down targets and this gets progressively tougher, requiring more and more skill as you work your through the twenty five stages. You could attempt it solo if you’re feeling brave or nobody likes you.
The real problem I have with Assassin’s Creed III is that while some games may be more than the sum of their parts, Ubisoft didn’t even bother to glue this game together properly. It feels like several separate modules tacked together with paper clips and spider-webs. Connor’s story is interesting and, at times, cool to play through but it has largely nothing to do with Desmond’s efforts to save the world in 2012 and it’s similarly disjointed from all the side-activities it spawns with little to no effort made in enticing players to actually go out and do all the stuff that exists there on either side of the main missions. They really do expect you to just be compelled to try it out without any tangible incentive.
The game gets far too lost in Connor’s narrative with Desmond becoming the forgotten child that is just dismissed in the end with enough attention that he doesn’t break down in tears. The focus of the game then is Connor’s story which makes it feel less like the series conclusion than just another AC title. Desmond’s ending feels rushed and poorly resolved with twists that literally come out of thin air and serve to make the whole thing very stupid rather than blow your mind. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment or that complete feeling you get when you wrap up a series, I just felt this hollowness because that is exactly what the ending was – a hollow send-off for Desmond so that Ubisoft can move onto the next schmuck and profit off the memories of his ancestors.
In fact, Connor’s ending and especially his cut scenes in post-credits epilogue make you feel cheated because they essentially render all your efforts null and void. The net ending of Assassin’s Creed III is an incoherent shambles that rushes through everything in an attempt to get over and done with us as soon as possible. Despite that three year development cycle the game still feels rushed, especially when it comes to characterisation and story.
Perhaps if Ubisoft scaled back their world a bit, focused the game a lot more and rewrote the story so as to be a more cohesive plot rather than two very erratic and shaky pieces of high school creative writing then we may have had a great game that was fun to play where everything was relevant, the story was concluded satisfyingly and you weren’t plagued by bugs. However, their sheer ambition in the scale of this game has cost them dearly and served only to produce a game as scatter-brained as the hare I’ve shot dozens of times and with so little cohesion between its elements that it’s no wonder the game doesn’t fall apart upon removal from its case.
So much of the experience feels sundry because it is never brought to relevance but merely shown to you and it’s lightly suggested that you do these activities. This game lacks direction and purpose as you seem to mostly be floating from point to point in the pursuit of liberty, egality and fraternity, wait…wrong revolution? I think the simplest way to sum up Assassin’s Creed III is by saying that my lovely dark head of hair is quite safe from any Mohawk who wishes to scalp me bald.*
*Wow, this footnote is a lot closer than I would’ve liked it to be but what I’m referring to, for the unaware, is a bet I made back at the start of the year when we got our first details regarding AC 3. I said that if the game is great on a comparable scale to Assassin’s Creed II which is perhaps the series pinnacle then I would shave my head.